The Past Continuous tense implies an ongoing action rather than a finite occurrence - instead of “she ran”, one would say “she was running.” Here the past is linguistically conjoined with the present. This form of grammar embeds itself within these drawings, photographs, animations, and sculptures in a way that sidesteps nostalgia by negotiating time – its traces and artifacts – as malleable for redefinition.
For John Lehr and Kara Rooney, the trace of an action, or the detritus gathered upon a surface, becomes a source of spectacle and atmosphere. John Lehr’s close inspection of worn surfaces turns Roland Barthes’ observation of the “this-has-been” of photography into a nearly abstract optical experience. Lehr’s images imply a dynamic painterly expanse due to the lack of contextual information, even as his photographs are in fact describing commonplace abraded surfaces in vivid detail. If in Lehr’s work the performance of entropy becomes atmospheric, in Rooney’s, the concrete object becomes performative. Her sculptures and photographic collages hold within them the potential for and echo of past actions. The objects she makes have been acted upon by multiple bodies, and in turn leave a record when animated. Often working in collaboration with choreographers and dancers, Rooney inspects the slippage of language through these forms and structures; exchanges that address, as she says, “the breakdown between memory, linguistic interaction, and actual event.”
Mickalene Thomas and Matt Bollinger recall parental figures as a vehicle for a sort of time travel. Thomas has cast her mother’s belongings in bronze. This material, associated with permanent memorial, turns once-daily accouterments into calcified mementos. An old digital camera, a necklace, and earrings become powerful relics, the lost-wax casting process destroying the original object while creating a transformed record. Bollinger’s work also mines his own familial history. His large drawing is a reconstruction, based upon the various shops that he would encounter while his father made deliveries for his auto parts retail business; these are places where Bollinger spent countless hours as a child. His hand-drawn animation, titled Mark of the Wolf, is a kinetic archive of many drawings, where both medium and subject invoke the passage of time.
Both Jenny Vogel and Colette Robbins employ modern technology to evoke a synthetic sense of antiquity. Robbins researches diverse sources - rock formations, Rorschach inkblots, and anatomical diagrams – on her way to creating what appear to be artifacts. She uses a combination of traditional drawing media and 3-D modeling software, evoking the mystery of prehistoric form as a metaphor for the way the mind interprets, synthesizes, and forgets information. Vogel has used related technology to create her video The Art of Forgetting, which is built with open-source 3-D scans of sculptures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The scans meet within a virtual non-space, where both our view and the spoken chorus circulate around these antiquated ghosts.
The works included in Past Continuous do not historicize static moments, but instead actively reformulate the seemingly old into the new through process and material engagement. Time is not so much linear as it is circular. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”